“I just don’t have many prospects.”
Every gift officer believes they need more prospects. Though the real problems are frequently overlooked (portfolio penetration, for one), it is our job as researchers to find new prospects, no matter the circumstances.
At Texas Christian University, the prospect management team brainstormed how to get more ratings into the system quickly. As with many universities, parents are a natural pool that create new prospects every year. There is a limited time, however, with which to engage and cultivate these parents. And getting all the parents rated takes a lot of time.
In order to get more prospects quickly, we needed to get parent ratings into the system, as soon as possible and by analytical means. We decided to take our research out of the equation — in the short term — in order to get more prospects into the pool.
We knew that the industry frowned upon bulk ratings. We also knew that taking research out of the equation was risky when WealthEngine was capable of assessing wealth without a human touch. How correct would these ratings be? Would this prove researchers were obsolete? Would our gift officers trust the ratings? Would management approve of bulk ratings?
When our director of development heard this proposal, his response — without pause — was “Do it.”
The first task was developing a criteria by which to pull the parent records that needed a bulk rating. We already had a process for bulk-screening new parents and used this to get started. This information would come from various pages in Blackbaud CRM, including wealth and ratings, in order to get the major giving capacity (MGC). This query included ID, name parts, household ID, rating, status, manager, MGC, spouse and spouse MGC.
With this list, we removed constituents with international addresses and people whose rating was already confirmed at or above MGC. If the spouse was rated (determined through the household ID) at the appropriate level, they were removed. If neither spouse was rated, we kept one on the list to rate.
Now that the list was complete, we created a column for overall rating that needed to be uploaded into CRM. We used the MGC to determine the appropriate rating to be uploaded, based on our rating formulas. One special note we made was for California real estate, which does not appropriately correspond to wealth. We also created a column for a comment to be uploaded into the research summary on the wealth and rating page. This comment said, “Rating based on screening. No research done.”
Our list, sent to operations, looked like this:
Our operations staff was charged with writing a project in CRM that was repeatable. In the future, if this project was repeated for alumni or volunteer groups, we wanted to be able to run this upload for up to 2,000 records per project. Operations would need to be able to update the following fields in CRM: overall rating, research summary, prospect constituency, prospect constituency start date and prospect status.
For this process to work, it was imperative that gift officers understand that these ratings were not confirmed by research. Therefore, the wealth and ratings page of CRM needed to reflect this. Operations updated the overall rating, but the giving capacity was not confirmed or locked. The research status remained unconfirmed; the prospect manager was not updated. If these fields were already populated, they would remain untouched.
For the prospect tab in CRM, the prospect constituency needed to be added, along with a start date (date of upload). If the constituent was already a prospect, the start date would be untouched. For the prospects who did not have a prospect status, this field would be updated to identified.
In our inaugural bulk upload, we screened 5,167 records (a slightly inflated number due to screening spouses individually) and added 1,165 rated prospects to the pool. The ratings broke down as follows:
$2,500,000 x 1
$750,000 x 4
$500,000 x 22
$250,000 x 168
$100,000 x 420
$50,000 x 550
For us, a major gift starts at $100,000, meaning that this upload produced 615 major giving prospects. Of those prospects with uploaded ratings of $100,000 or more, our staff has so far recorded interactions on 73 of them. Of those 73 interactions, 21 were research requests that produced no actual contact; 52 attempted or made contact with the prospect.
For the 550 prospects with ratings of $50,000, our staff recorded interactions with 13 of them. Of those 13 interactions, three were research requests with no actual contact, but 10 attempted or made contact with the prospect. All of these interactions, 86 total, were made by 14 staff members.
Of the prospects with an uploaded rating of $250,000 or more, research then confirmed a rating higher than what was uploaded on 69 percent of the records. With only 5 percent of those records, research confirmed a rating lower than the one uploaded. And, 26 percent of the time, the rating that research confirmed was the same as the uploaded rating.
Of the prospects with an uploaded rating of $100,000, the confirmed rating was higher than the uploaded rating for 5 percent of the records. However, 95 percent of the ratings that have been confirmed by research have, so far, stayed at $100,000.
For the prospects with an uploaded rating of $50,000, 60 percent were confirmed by research with a higher rating; 40 percent of the ratings stayed the same.
After seeing these results, and in consultation with our prospect manager, we decided that any prospect added to a gift officer’s portfolio would first be validated and confirmed by research.
Our parent gift officers have found the results extremely helpful, going so far as to say that the process is “amazing.” By getting the ratings uploaded, mere weeks after admissions receives a list of deposited freshman, these gift officers can start learning the names of their potential prospects in time for late-summer send-off parties. Here, they can easily make contact with potential prospects, knowing who had the capacity to be major giving donors. Previously, research would complete parent ratings halfway into the academic year. But the best time to make contact with parents is during a student’s first semester, when both students and parents are actively looking to build relationships at the university.
All of our gift officers understood our motives for implementing this upload and were receptive to the bulk ratings. Thankfully, our parent staff require little more than an indication of wealth before attempting to make contact with a prospect. Once contact was made with prospects and first meetings were scheduled, research would individually verify the rating and mark them “confirmed” by research.
While not an ideal solution, bulk ratings are a convenient, low-risk way to quickly rate large groups of prospects. It is important, however, to have clean data in your CRM. One of the obstacles we faced was having children’s addresses on parent records. Most of our parents are not immediately “married” when they are put into our CRM, which meant that both spouses received a rating.
After this parent upload worked so well, we started the more difficult task of uploading ratings to various alumni groups. These groups proved to be a more complicated data set to pull, especially when it came to spouses (alumni who marry alumni continue to cause data problems).
However, the parent upload worked well enough that it will continue at our organization. From the perspective of the parent gift officers, this process maximizes their efficiency. It helps them strategize and create their development plans for the upcoming year, knowing where they will need to travel in the coming year.
Despite our early anxiety, the process, in reality, validates the need for prospect researchers. While MGC is a good indicator, a researcher is always needed to prove actual wealth.